Promoting environmental sustainability through the utilisation of an indicator set, ecosystem services perspective and non-market valuation techniques

David Cook

Research output: Other contribution


Enhanced understanding and knowledge concerning a nation’s environmental sustainability performance is necessary to ensure the longterm flourishing capacities of economies and critical to the maintenance of human well-being, particularly through the provisioning of multiple ecosystem services. The case study of Iceland is referenced throughout this thesis to explore linkages between environmental sustainability impacts at a national level with environmental and ecosystem service impacts occurring on a project-specific basis, particularly those associated with energy developments. Paper I of this thesis uses the case studies of Iceland and Norway to outline a new methodology for selecting indicators of environmental sustainability specific to the national context. Following a series of focus groups, expert judgment was applied as part of a five-stage process leading to the selection of 23 indicators from an initial pool of 30 possibilities. Easy-to-understand evaluative techniques, in the form of radar charts and traffic-lights, were used to appraise national progress in relation to targets and trend-based objectives respectively. Paper II considers the project-specific nature of environmental impacts in the Icelandic energy sector. On the basis that determining the acceptability of environmental impacts can become a subjective affair skewed by vested interest, an argument is set forth for the use of non-market-valuation techniques to account for environmental costs. This paper discusses the way in which utilitarian values of the environment could be incorporated into the existing decision-making and regulatory apparatus for Icelandic energy projects. Paper III then focuses directly on geothermal energy in Iceland, using an ecosystem services perspective to highlight typical impacts to the quality and quantity of their provisioning through the development of a hightemperature power project. The first thematic classification of ecosystem services in a geothermal energy context is outlined using the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) framework. A pluralist approach is advocated to account for the diverse range of utilitarian and intrinsic values typically associated with geothermal areas. Paper IV reports on the results from the first two contingent valuation studies in Iceland – on Eldvörp and Hverahlíð – aimed at (a) eliciting preferences for the preservation of high-temperature geothermal fields, and (b) estimating willingness to pay for their preservation. The estimated mean willingness to pay for the preservation of Eldvörp and Hverahlíð is 8,433 ISK and 7,122 ISK respectively. A similar methodology is also applied in Paper V to estimate the economic value of preserving Heiðmörk, a popular recreational area of green open space located on the fringes of Reykjavík, Garðabær and Kópavogur. The welfare estimates provide evidence that Icelanders consider Heiðmörk to possess considerable total economic value, with taxpayers willing to pay in the range 17,039 to 24,790 ISK per payment to secure its preservation. This thesis draws attention to the need for Iceland to gain further knowledge about the economic value of its diverse landscape types. Future research should focus on the practical deployment and uses of the environmental sustainability indicators, and the creation of a framework for the spatial mapping and economic valuation of Iceland’s ecosystem services, both from the perspective of the producer and consumer.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Iceland, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Other keywords

  • Sjálfbærni
  • Umhverfisáhrif
  • Virkjanir
  • Jarðhiti
  • Doktorsritgerðir


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